Home Left, Home Found
The New York writer, government bureaucrat, and political propagandist James Kirke Paulding often commented on the frenetic pace of economic growth, population increase, and technological change evident in his city. 1 His lifelong friend, Washington Irving, turned the phenomenal changes of the time into a short story about a character named Rip Van Winkle, who awoke after a twenty-year sleep. Rip lived in a small village in the Hudson River Valley of New York. While he slept, the village, a place whose people were lethargic but content, was transformed into a bustling, prosperous community full of people in a hurry. For men such as Paulding and Irving, observers of a changing America, economic growth and the opportunity that accompanied it came at too high a price. Intellectually, the two friends retreated into the past. They found comfort in a more traditional time, which they described as an age in which selfless men were devoted to community well-being and causes that were more noble than crass self interest. They were admirers and supporters of Andrew Jackson even though neither Jackson nor his Tennessee allies saw the world as they did.
An impressive body of historical literature has been written in the past quarter century about American culture in the years from the end of the Revolution to the election of William Henry Harrison in 1840. What in varying ways those historians have discovered, analyzed, and explained